I was in Rise Records in Bristol the other day, and they have a £1 rack. Most of the stuff in there – all in presumably over-ordered multiple copies – was stuff I’d never heard of, but they also had a dozen copies of this. It’s a double CD, and it’s fabulous. I almost bought copies of it to hand out to strangers, but we had a Swans gig to go to. Come to think of it, Swans fans might like this record.
I met Josh T Pearson before ever hearing his music; in 2007 he supported 65daysofstatic, who I interviewed, and who insisted that I should meet him, so I did. He was genial and erudite, with a fabulous beard, and we talked a little about music, but mostly about the internet and the way people interact online. Inspired, I went out and bought The Texas Jerusalem Crossroads at the first opportunity; I’d heard of it beforehand, was vaguely aware of its legendary status, but didn’t know much about what it would sound like. My Bloody Valentine were mentioned, vaguely, and postrock, and a handful of other things which I liked well enough but not massively.
So what does it sound like? Like Kitchens of Distinction in a desert, possibly; that huge, “no one played keyboards” wash of guitars and star-scraping, epic melancholy and anxiety at the modern world transplanted from urban London to the middle of nowhere, the howls of marginalized sexuality replaced with howls of pained agnosticism or collapsing faith, or something in between the two.
It opens with thrashing chords and crashing drums and a bizarre, spoken-word vocal about how “the USA’s at the centre of Jerusalem”, delivered in an almost disinterested, detached mumble. Eventually, after a moment or two, the guitars start to spiral upwards like twisters, and Josh T Pearson ceases the mumbling and opens his vocal chords. Which are fulsome…
The song titles are designed to be read together, and form a strange, bible-esque stanza: “Just as was told / down came the angels / falling from cloud 9 / with crippled wings / waiting to hit / the ground so soft / these are the days / when we shall touch / down with the prophets / to guard and to guide you / into the storm”. It’s clearly deliberate, and though the record is long (11 tracks lasting 93 minutes over two discs), it feels designed to flow together; individual songs don’t clearly separate from each other, but rather segue through clouds of distortion and shimmering half-melodies.
“Ladies and gentlemen we are playing with one guitar” announces the sleeve; it’s mixed by Simon Raymonde and Robin Guthrie from Cocteau Twins, and shares a certain otherworldliness with that band. The cover and inner sleeve are some kind of late 90s / early 00s cheap design software abomination, but it doesn’t really matter, because the music is so rich and spacious and intense. Sometimes it collapses into near-silence for long periods; at others points it rages and squalls like elemental forces ravaging huge topographies. It’s not about melodies or hooks; it’s about seismic shifts that sweep you up and carry you away. Pearson’s lyrics tell strange, lucid-dream stories about a mystical America, painting impressions of railroads and desert towns and people struggling with religion and emotion and reality, embarking upon epic, poetic, biblical allegories and picaresque fantasy.
The Texas Jerusalem Crossroads isn’t an easy record to partake in; it doesn’t suit casual listening, commuting, cars, or being chopped-up into little bits and scattered across playlists, and as such it doesn’t come off the shelves and into the CD player all that often. But when it does… what a ride it is. It took Pearson a decade to follow up, with an album of strangulated, acoustic songs of love and lust gone bad. Singular.